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Memories of day I saw the Air Circus Tiger Moth heading for the meadow

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 14, 2014

A de Havilland Tiger Moth in WWII livery

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WE may experience a few remarkable incidents in life that no matter how long ago, they register at the forefront of our memory, and Gerald Hanrahan has a story to tell that to a young boy must have been one of the most exciting things to happen during a long summer school holiday back in the 1930s.

At the last Black Country Memories Club meeting held at Bilston Town Hall, the history of council housing in Bilston was the main topic of conversation, and in particular the Stow Lawn Estate just to the north of the town. Before its redevelopment much of the area was a designated wasteland where many pits had been sunk during the previous 200 years. But there was one field used for grazing that is at the centre of Gerald's story.

"The Stow Lawn E state dates back to 1948 and was constructed between Moseley Road and Pounds Lane in Bilston, with a muddy track that formed a link between the two roads. Bilston golf course was located near the Prouds Lane end.

"There was a lovely green meadow that extended alongside the access track, with a low wire and post fence to retain the grazing horses that had the freedom of the meadow to move around in. The opposite side was flanked by the rusty brook, a stream reputed to be the most polluted in the Black Country, that carried away the waste from the iron foundries and factories.

"The vista was overshadowed by a factory known as the 'Potted Meat Place' by the locals in the area, that specialised in smelting down animal bones for glue. The smell that issued forth from the tall stack when the factory was running at full pelt was absolutely dreadful, and certainly if the wind was in the wrong direction housewives were advised not to put their washing out on the line.

"A highlight for me as a youngster growing up in Bunkers Hill not far from Stow Lawn, was the Alan Cobham Air Circus that visited nearby Neachells Lane. It provided air trips for those lucky enough to afford it and I occasionally saw the aircraft flying around, something that fascinated me. In later years I found out that Alan Cobham, who was knighted for his work in the aviation industry, was a member of the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and started his aviation displays in 1932. But to my surprise they ended just a few years later in 1935.

"It was the long summer holiday break from school, and for me and my mates the only form of transport we had were our beloved bicycles. I can't remember what time it was, but all of a sudden we watched transfixed as a Tiger Moth aircraft passed over our heads, lower than normal, with what sounded like a misfire of the engine.

'Then it came over the houses once again and seemed to be getting lower, and we all shouted as one, 'It's heading for the meadow'.

"My mother appeared from the house and with a pointed figure said, 'Don't you go anywhere near that aircraft'. But we boys were in no mood to be deprived of this excitement and with the coast clear it was a scramble and then off on our bikes in pursuit. It could have crash landed? But then we would have heard a noise.

"Within minutes we'd arrived at the scene to see an undamaged but forlorn Tiger Moth in the middle of the meadow, and a pilot who looked slightly embarrassed but was trying to appear normal. Then, like the cavalry in the old Western movies, a vehicle arrived from nowhere and saved the day with a can of fuel.

"A crowd had gathered and we all had to move further up the track as an attempted take-off was being prepared. A few minutes elapsed, then the engine fired up and the flying machine taxied up the field away from the road, turned, and then picking up speed was airborne within seconds.

"We cheered and waved, but then realised there had been a passenger in the cockpit who must have been scared witless when the aircraft initially stalled. We discovered later he had been conveyed, by his own request, to purchase some new trousers as a memento of the flight. I wonder if he got his money back as well?"

If you any vivid memories from your childhood and you would like to share it as a story or anecdote with other Bugle readers, please email editor@blackcountry.co.uk or contact Bugle House on 01384 567678, or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath.

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